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Friday, 9 June, 2000, 23:42 GMT 00:42 UK
Researchers target garlic mystery
Garlic
Many health claims are made on behalf of garlic
Scientists are to attempt to discover once and for all whether garlic does protect against heart disease and cancer.

If they can verify anecdotal evidence that garlic can protect against Europe's two biggest killers, they will then attempt to pin down the chemical process by which this is achieved.

For years there has been a widespread belief that garlic promotes good health. But, there is little scientific data to support these stories.

The new four-year, pan-European study will attempt to remedy this.



Once we can identify the compounds that help prevent these two diseases within the garlic plant, we can maximise their potential

Dr Brian Thomas, Horticulture Research International

Most tests will be carried out on human cell cultures and animals.

However, some tests, for instance on how garlic is absorbed into the gut, will be carried out on volunteers.

Dr Brian Thomas, of the UK-based Horticulture Research International (HRI), will play a leading role in the study.

He said: "Once we can identify the compounds that help prevent these two diseases within the garlic plant, we can maximise their potential."

"We are focusing on the interaction between the sulphur compounds within the garlic and human cardiovascular disease and cancer.

"When we are able to pinpoint the specific sulphur compounds and the genes that are responsible, we should be in a position to breed new garlic plants that can provide the ingredients for high quality health care.'

Pharmaceutical preparation

The project, which includes researchers at the University of Liverpool and plant breeders, bio-medical groups and manufacturers of garlic-based medicines from mainland Europe, will also examine whether garlic preparations are as effective as the raw, unprocessed product.

The aim is to create an effective pharmaceutical preparation from garlic cloves.

In 1998, scientists from the University of Bonn in Germany published research which found the traditional belief that garlic thins the blood and combats heart disease had no basis in fact.

Dr Heiner Berthold and colleagues tested commercial garlic oil preparations and found no evidence of lowered cholesterol levels.

But groups who promote garlic attacked the research, suggesting it was fundamentally flawed.

New Zealand husband and wife research team Rex and Christine Munday claimed in New Scientist magazine last year that eating half a clove of raw garlic a day could help protect against cancer.

They believed the key ingredient was a substance called diallyl disulfide.

It causes the gut to produce enzymes that can clear it of cancer-causing particles.

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See also:

17 Jun 98 | Latest News
Researchers create a stink over garlic
26 May 99 | Health
Raw garlic tackles cancer
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